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Aquascutum Goes Into Administration

Storied British luxury brand on Tuesday entered the U.K. equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

LONDON — Storied British luxury brand Aquascutum on Tuesday entered into administration, the U.K. equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

This story first appeared in the April 18, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Harold Tillman acquired the brand in 2009 together with Belinda Earl, who until earlier this year served as the company’s chief executive officer.

Aquascutum said that “the challenging conditions in the U.K.…[have] unfortunately meant that the team has been unable to successfully turn the business around, which has ultimately resulted in its administration. The board hopes that under [the administrators] the business will be disposed of successfully.”

Aquascutum noted that when Tillman and Earl acquired the business in 2009, it had experienced losses of about 24 million pounds, or $38.6 million at current exchange, in the previous year.

The company’s shareholders went on to invest about 30 million pounds, or $48.3 million, in the business over the subsequent three years. Aquascutum also said its senior management team worked “tirelessly” to develop the firm’s brand and offer.

Tillman and Earl bought the label from Japan’s Renown Inc. for an undisclosed price. However, as part of the deal, the duo sold the brand’s intellectual property rights to Hong Kong-based YGM Mart Ltd. At the time, Tillman and Earl planned to retain Aquascutum’s luxury positioning while expanding the brand’s reach to a broader audience.

Geoff Rowley and Phil Armstrong, partners at FRP Advisory LLP, a British restructuring, recovery and insolvency firm, have been appointed as joint administrators, FRP Advisory said.

“We are conscious of the value of the Aquascutum brand and its long-standing heritage and, because of this, are keen to enter into early discussions with interested parties open to purchasing the business as soon as possible,” Rowley stated. “We will of course be conducting an urgent assessment of all stores and concessions, and look to communicate to staff and suppliers at the earliest opportunity.”

Aquascutum operates two stand-alone stores in London and one in Windsor, just outside London, as well as 16 concessions in stores such as Selfridges, Harrods and House of Fraser. It also operates seven outlet stores and 11 international concessions, and its manufacturing is run from a factory in Northamptonshire, England. The company employs 250 people in the U.K.

The development follows U.K. press reports earlier this month that Tillman was exploring a sale of the business.

Tillman and Earl are the latest in a string of executives who failed to jump-start the growth of Aquascutum, which over the years sparred with Burberry over which brand actually invented the iconic trenchcoat. Under Renown, Aquascutum focused heavily on the Japanese market in the boom years of the Seventies and Eighties but failed to update its fashion image and in the Nineties began to struggle in Western markets because of its dowdy image. Renown brought in a series of ceo’s to turn the brand around, but always resisted drastic changes even as Burberry under then-ceo Rose Marie Bravo instituted a major revamp that turned the label into a fashion-driven, global luxury label. Aquascutum tried over the years to update its brand à la Burberry, but with little result. British designer Joanna Sykes was appointed design director at the label in 2010 and added a sharper, more modern slant to its outerwear.

On Monday, Tillman sold a 90 percent stake in his label Jaeger to Better Capital, a U.K. private equity firm. Better Capital paid 19.5 million pounds, or $30.9 million for the stake, with the majority of that sum going towards acquiring Jaeger’s debt.